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Caught in the COSMIX

Construction company has spotty safety record in Colorado


The COSMIX project recently claimed the life of a - construction worker. - 2006 BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • 2006 Bruce Elliott
  • The COSMIX project recently claimed the life of a construction worker.

Federal inspectors repeatedly cited SEMA Construction and a sister company for dangerous safety violations in the five years prior to the death of a construction worker last month.

Humberto Rodriguez, 30, died April 23 around 11:30 p.m., when a crane toppled onto him near Interstate 25 and North Nevada Avenue.

The accident occurred about 29 hours into a 35-hour Colorado Springs Metro Interstate Expansion, or COSMIX, project the workers hoped to complete before Monday morning rush hour.

Federal inspectors have cited SEMA Construction, a major COSMIX contractor, and SEMA Precast, a sister company, 22 times since October 2000 for an array of safety violations at five Colorado worksites, according to an Independent analysis of Occupational Safety and Health Administration records.

But SEMA reduced those 22 citations to 15 through formal and informal legal settlements with OSHA.

Fourteen "serious" violations, those that are considered potentially life-threatening, were reduced to seven through negotiations. And initial fines totaling $38,900 were lowered to $19,100.

John Healy, the OSHA regional director charged with investigating the working conditions surrounding Rodriguez's death, strongly defends such settlements.

"Many times, [companies] are able to bring information that was unavailable to us that puts [what happened] in a better light," Healy says.

SEMA Construction has formed a partnership with engineering construction firm CH2M Hill, creating an entity called Rockrimmon Constructors, to complete COSMIX. The $150 million project, which began more than a year ago, will widen I-25 to three lanes in each direction between North Academy Boulevard and Circle Drive.

COSMIX's project manager, Joe Schroeder of Rockrimmon Constructors, declines to speak specifically about the safety records of the two Rockrimmon Constructors companies.

However, he says that COSMIX contractors are "taking the matter very seriously," and that the incident has spawned an internal inquiry into the incident and "our practices in general."

CH2M Hill has no recent violations in Colorado. Yet the company has been cited for eight "serious" and two "other" violations since 2000 at worksites in California and Washington.

Since 2000, Centennial-based SEMA has also begun projects in California, Nevada and New Mexico, but has logged no serious violations in those states.

The OSHA investigation could take months to complete, Healy adds. Investigators are looking at myriad factors, such as the contractors' equipment records, worker training, safety measures already in place, Rodriguez's performance and the windy conditions that night.

If OSHA finds fault, the biggest fine it can levy is $70,000 per "willful" violation, in which life-threatening conditions develop as safety regulations are flagrantly ignored.

But such charges are rare in Colorado.

OSHA found willful violations 27 times last year statewide, including once in El Paso County.

Bob Wilson, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Transportation, which oversees COSMIX, says the safety records of SEMA and CH2M Hill were checked when the companies applied to become contractors.

Rodriguez, a Colorado Springs resident with a wife and three children, had worked for SEMA since 1998. It is expected he will be laid to rest in his native Mexico.

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